Fleeing the house, and the grind

Kim Patch, Adam Rogoff (center) and Eric Smalley are among Roslindale home-based workers who are now meeting monthly. Kim Patch, Adam Rogoff (center) and Eric Smalley are among Roslindale home-based workers who are now meeting monthly. (Globe Staff Photo / David Kamerman)
By Justin A. Rice
Globe Correspondent / August 31, 2008
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Shuffling into the Square Corner Cafe in shorts and sandals on a hot summer day, a motley crew of Roslindale residents pulled together three round tables and flanked them with two square ones.

"I did have a meeting in Wareham this morning and have been there and back in my fancy clothes," said Laura Gang, who works from home for an environmental foundation. "I do miss the camaraderie of the whole workplace, but not enough to go back."

Ranging from artists to journalists and furniture makers to lawyers, the group of self-employed, part-time, and home-based workers meets once a month for lunch at various Roslindale Square restaurants. Organized by attorney Adam Rogoff about two years ago, they represent a growing trend toward telecommuting, as the cost of traditional commuting in terms of time and money increasingly burdens workers.

"The idea is quite simple: Give those of us who work at home or on our own in Roslindale a time to come together and to create a daytime community, share experiences, trade ideas, and possibly network," the 39-year-old Rogoff wrote in an e-mail to a list of teleworkers he compiled before launching the group. "It's a way to get out of our home offices and connect with similar folks."

They also need supplies. And the opening of a Staples store in Roslindale Square next month in the long-vacant Ashmont Discount building shows how businesses recognize the rise of telecommuting in the neighborhood.

"I'd say we're emblematic of a growing number of people working from home," said Rogoff. "Staples capitalized on that."

While there used to be stigma that those who worked from home couldn't cut it in the wild workplace, working from home is easier than ever thanks to high-speed Internet, videoconferencing, and more affordable supplies sold at stores such as Office Max, Office Depot, and Staples, said Tom Miller, a senior consultant at the Wisconsin-based Dieringer Research Group.

In a neighborhood that was long averse to big-box retailers, Staples will be welcomed by members of Rogoff's group, who previously had to drive to the Staples in Dedham or the Landmark Center for ink cartridges or to use the copying center.

"Staples will save us a lot of travel time, certainly at $4 a gallon of gas," said Rogoff.

Rogoff earned a law degree from Northeastern University in 1996 and worked in two Boston firms before setting out on his own in 2001. Often taking breaks in the nearby Arnold Arboretum, Rogoff said he kept meeting other Roslindale residents who work from home before he got to thinking, "It's crazy we're all in our houses all day. Wouldn't it be nice to talk about what we do, get out of what we do for a bit?"

Rogoff's lunch group, which is supported by Roslindale Village Main Streets, has 40 members and averages about 10 people per lunch. Miller said such groups could become increasingly popular as more employers allow employees to work from home.

But he cautioned that telecommuting could prevent ideas born at the water cooler.

"Blogs and chatting on instant messenger can still have that water cooler effect 'cause it's instant. But I think it depends a little bit on job functions and work applications. For certain individuals, the loss of the water cooler effect is significant."

Whatever the drawbacks, the trend is clear. A study by the Dieringer Research Group found that more than 28 million Americans were working from home at least part time as of 2006, a 10 percent jump from the previous year and a 40 percent increase from 2002.

Miller suspects that gasoline prices will significantly increase the numbers when his organization conducts the study this fall. "It's like a hidden pay raise to allow someone to telecommute now," Miller says.

Still, working from home isn't as cushy as it sounds. Many members of Rogoff's group said they have struggled at some point to maintain the boundary between home and work.

Rogoff's neighbors Eric Smalley and Kim Patch, who have been home-based technology journalists since the mid-1990s, say nights and weekends are sacred. Pointing to a lock on their office door, the couple said they try not to work during traditional downtime.

"We give advice" to other group members "that we follow," said the 44-year-old Smalley.

"Sometimes we follow," said Patch, 45.

Inside their office, one bookshelf is dedicated to grammar texts such as "Sin and Syntax," while another contains the first two years of Wired magazine. Instead of keyboards, both have headsets they use with voice-recognition software designed to prevent typing-related injuries.

"If you have a pet, you can spend more time with them," Patch said. "And without a keyboard, you can pet a cat while working."

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